Bring it on

"Think what a great world revolution will take place when there are millions of guys all over the world with rucksacks on their backs tramping around the back country…."- Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

Lehigh Gorge (Glen Onoko- to the top of the falls- Part 2)

>> Monday, July 20, 2009

We walk down the wooden staircase and are face-to-face with the WARNING sign. In the smaller print, the sign read "hikers have been seriously injured and killed as a result of accidental falls from the trail and gorge overlooks."

Strangely enough, I remembered that I'd seen a similar warning before, but much smaller and one that I took much much more seriously in the White Mountains of New Hampshire as I was climbing Mt. Washington (6,288 ft) in the summer of 2006. The sign read, "The area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in the sumer. Turn back now if the weather is bad."

Nothing like good ole honesty to put the fear of god into you about hiking a trail. But luckily, that day the weather was beautiful as I took the challenge at Mt. Washington, NH and I would definitely accept this challenge from the Glen Onoko Falls Trail at Lehigh Gorge, PA... as soon as I could find the trail....

As we stood in front of the sign there were two ways to go: left toward the river paddlers or right under the wooden bridge. Grafitti covered its belly, water dripped from above plunking into huge puddles that remained stagnant in the heat. It seemed like a dead end. And while I had hiked this trail once before two years ago, I didn't neccessarily recall the direction the trail began. So, I assumed that the trail must obviously be toward the left. Most of the people in the park seemed to be headed in that direction and the trail just seemed a bit cheerier.

As we rounded the trail to the left, we watched people smiling and practicing their inflatable raft paddling techniques in their lifejackets, when a few moments later, we ran into pavement, a parking lot, and some stairs leading up to the bathrooms. This was definitely not leading us to the Glen Onoko Falls Trail.
After hitting up the environmentally friendly pit toilets, we made a full circle around the parking lot and back down the wooden stairs, again to face the warning sign...again.

We peeked around to find a blaze, an arrow, or a cairn, but no such luck. With a shoulder shrug, we headed out for the second time to find the falls trail this time by passing under the wooden bridge. When suddenly and seemingly obvious, the pathway lie right in front of us.

We began our ascent. We hiked up the steep trail about fifty to one hundred feet. When no sooner did we come to a 'V.' There were no signs deciphering the difference between the orange and the red blazes in front of us.

To the left, a true warning of the sign of what was to come of our day: Beyond the orange blazed tree, a family of people were hiking downhill toward us. There was a man yelling "COME ON" at an emaciated black shepard. He yanked on the dog's metal leash while the dog cried out in a horrifying yelp, attempting to get over and off the difficult rocks more quickly. The rage built up inside me and I looked to my boyfriend for recognition. He nodded and after we let the rest of the nonresponsive family pass, we commented on the man's blatant animal abuse.

I couldn't imagine what he'd put his family through. And I couldn't believe that we were both so quiet at such a horrifying moment. We were usually so verbal about these sorts of things. It was almost as if there was some engrained social unease buried inside the both of us. It was as though it would've been improper to air how those people should properly treat their pet. It was like we would've been publically dictating how someone else should properly raise their child, much to the humiliation and anger of the parents.

I mentioned how badly I've wanted a dog (an aussie or boxer) as a hiking companion and family member, but I couldn't even have a dog because of the restrictions on our apartment's lease. I even went as far as to have said that just because someone wanted a dog, it didn't mean they should be allowed to have one. It seemed that in this situation any nutcase could have an animal, even that detestible wretch of a human being. After a few more moments of heated ventilation, I stepped off my soapbox, and I hopped back into my calm hiking mindset.

We looked to the right at a red marked trail with an enormous fallen trunk over the pathway.

Another guessing game. I sat down on a boulder on the orange trail and I pulled my backpack around to my waist. I took out my map again and we both looked closely for a guide to the Falls. No markings or symbols. No other trail names or mileage.

Behind us we noticed a middle aged couple breathing heavily to catch up with us. We moved aside for them and I said: "You happen to know which of these leads to the falls?"

The woman responded: "We don't really know which way the falls trail is. We thought you looked like you knew where you're going. So we've been following you."

At first I thought this was kind of ridiculous considering that we walked in a full circle before we got here. And of course, now that I'm reflecting on that moment, I find it hilarious that this conversation was initiated by the women so that we could figure out what's going on. It seems that even in the wilderness we have to ask for directions!

After we all took a few more breaths and a quick sip of water, I finally made the decision to head up the left trail (oranged blazed), which seemed familiar. After about twenty or thirty yards, I felt confident that I had remembered the rocky trail, the flat faced boulders to our right, and the inevitable sound of rushing water. Once we saw the creek headed downstream, we knew we were on our way to the first fall!


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